27 new COVID-19 cases identified in region

The Bering Strait/Norton Sound region saw 27 new COVID-19 cases this week, 12 were identified in Stebbins,  12 were in Gambell and two in Nome and a regional resident traveling outside of the region.
The surge of regional cases comes alongside one of the worst spikes in new cases statewide since the start of the pandemic.
The latest surge in Stebbins was announced on Tuesday evening. According to Norton Sound Health Corp., the village is currently hunkering down, and public buildings have limited to no access. NSHC will send additional help and supplies for community-wide testing, and all community members will be able to receive a COVID-19 test
In Gambell, three new cases were announced on Wednesday, September 30, six on Friday, October 2, one on Saturday, October 3 and two on Monday, October 5.
Norton Sound Health Corporation Medical Director Dr. Mark Peterson said in a regular conference call that most of these cases are close contacts of known cases who have turned up positive about a week after contact. Gambell is still in lockdown and continued testing is expected to reveal more cases in the coming week.
Two nonresidents of the region also tested positive in Nome this week as part of the city’s mandatory testing for incoming travelers. One of those traveler tested positive on Thursday, October 1 and another on Monday, October 5. Both patients are safely isolating in Nome.
A resident of a regional village also tested positive on Friday, October 2 while they were traveling outside the region. The patient had not been in the region during their infectious period.
In Nome, NSHC has started a new system for rapid COVID-19 testing at the testing tent at the hospital. Anyone wanting a rapid test now needs to schedule the test ahead of time at www.picktime.com/NSHC.
Even those who are required to get a test, such as people going into a dental appointment or looking to test out of their travel quarantine, need to schedule an appointment in advance.
The change came after Abbott, the company that manufactures the rapid tests used by NSHC, recommended that all tests be analyzed within one hour of taking the swab from the patient.
The testing tent will begin by taking only 10 tests per hour, although that number may increase as NSHC expands its testing capacity. The NSHC employee at the Anchorage airport will work with incoming travelers to schedule timely tests after their arrival in Nome.
Monday marked the 12th day in a row that Alaska saw more than 100 new cases in a single day, the longest streak since the beginning of the pandemic.
Anchorage and Fairbanks have been especially hard-hit, and one patient needing intensive care had to be kept in Bethel last week because of a lack of available ICU beds in Anchorage, according to KYUK.
As hospitals in Anchorage approach capacity, NSHC is revising its medical travel policies. Dr. Peterson said they plan on expanding telemedicine and bringing more specialists to Nome so that fewer people need to travel to Anchorage. He also discouraged travel as case numbers in Anchorage continue to rise.
“This reminds us that travel should be essential only,” he said on a conference call. “People need to keep in mind that going into the fall and winter, we need to tighten things up. Any travel that’s not essential is just not worth doing.”
Statewide, Alaska had had 9,587 cumulative cases as of Tuesday, with 4,074 of those currently active. Hospitals around the region have seen 307 patients with COVID-19, and 58 people have died.
In the Bering Strait/Norton Sound region, there have been 95 cumulative cases. No one has had to be put on a ventilator, and no one has died.

 Funding for this coverage provided in part by a grant from the Alaska Center for Excellence in Journalism.

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